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07 March, 2009

Beliefs: Generation Gaps

Q: Tell me about a belief, idea, or position that you hold that was not held by your parents.

Many things change from generation to generation. As a collective, we seem to drive toward opposing our parents. The pro-America, straight-laced 40s and 50s gave way to the counter-culture, free-love 60s and 70s, which gave way to the corporate 80s, which gave way to the retro-movement of the 90s, while not strictly along generational time scales. Some of these changes are surely driven by events of the world, but others are surely the result of the desire of youth to rebel against authority, namely the parent, in whatever form that happens to take.

So I thought it would be a good question to start with, asking people how their beliefs differ from their parents. But as you'll see with all of my questions, it's really hard to get the "why" instead of the "what". As for the what? Well, I sampled a set of friends who, by and large, have similar viewpoints to myself: liberal, educated, choosing to live in the Pacific Northwest. The ways in which people's beliefs differed from their parents ranged from the amusing ("Costco is evil"), to the abrupt ("There is no god"), to the quirky ("It's easy to repair cars"). There were a couple of people who mentioned the topic of expressing oneself through body art or piercings, and about how their parents tended to judge people in certain stereotypical ways based on these superficial features.

What I was hoping to understand was something about how we define ourselves as a result of our upbringing. And that can go both ways. For every case of someone who rebels and is the opposite of their parents, there's someone else who follows in the family footsteps. And this can be for better, or for worse. There are families of doctors, who play golf every Wednesday for generations. And there are families of abusers who witness atrocities, and then sadly, repeat them in adulthood. There doesn't seem to be a consistent pattern, at least not to me.

So, how do we get to the "Why?"

Why do you not believe in God, even though your family, by and large, did?

Why do you hate Costco, even though your parents have shopped there faithfully for years?

Why did you decide to start working on cars yourself, even though your father would never?

How do we get at the "Why?" Was it the associations we had? Did we interact with influential people who taught us something that our parents never had the chance to learn? Was it the absence of a dogma? Or the presence of a more powerful one? Was it random experimentation that resulted in new viewpoints, or was it the burning urge to be somehow better or more evolved than our creators? Is it a quest for individuality, or is it simply that there's new information that wasn't available to our parents, and yet they cling to their old beliefs?

If we were all given the same information would we all come to hold the same beliefs and positions in this world? Or do we each, individually, have the capacity to synthesize ideas?

Lots of butterflies, and lots of wings. Or maybe it's less Chaos Theory, and more Freud.

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